Kabul refugee camp

Humanitarian

A state of continual emergency has become the norm for Afghanistan. Driven by constant conflict displacement, the influx of a huge number of refugee returns and the continual threat of natural disasters, it is anticipated that almost 2 million people will have emergency life threatening needs in 2017 - OCHA Humanitarian Needs Overview 2017

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis is predominantly man-made – the decades of war continue to take and destroy an extraordinary number of lives.  Civilian casualties are only one part of this complex equation.  The conflict has caused the breakdown of critical health, infrastructure and economic support structures.   Lack of access to clean water, health facilities and nutritious food is resulting in outbreaks of disease and unacceptable levels of acute and chronic malnourishment.  Unexploded ordnance from the current and previous wars continue to kill and maim civilians, whilst also rendering vital agricultural land unusable.  

This mounting humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is being compounded by a paradoxical situation. Afghanistan, the country of origin for a large portion of the world’s refugee population, is now also the country receiving the largest number of Afghan returnee migrants and refugees. The UN launched an emergency appeal in September 2016, One Million People on the Move, attempting to address the issue both for returnees and those communities hosting them and facing even further strain on an unstable environment and overstretched resources. In January 2017, UN OCHA's fourth situation report on the returnee crisis claimed 614,225 Afghans had returned from Pakistan since January 2016, with 93% of that movement since July.

Afghanistan has also faced numerous humanitarian crises brought on by natural disasters – based in an area of high seismic activity it has suffered devastating earthquakes, landslides and avalanches.  Its climate has also caused drought and flooding disasters, bringing both immediate loss of life and shelter and longer-term damage to livelihoods.  Such ‘stresses’ are often intolerable to communities already struggling with poverty. 

Civilian casualties

Conflict causes death or injury to Afghan civilians on a daily basis.  They are accidentally caught up in armed battles, are victims of explosive devices or are targets themselves for assassination.  During the first three quarters of 2016, UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) documented 8,397 civilians killed or injured (2,562 and 5,835 respectively), maintaining the record high numbers recorded in previous years.   This brings the total number of deaths since UNAMA started documenting civilian casualties in 2007 to well over 31,350 – a conservative estimate since not all casualties will be recorded.  

As in most conflicts, women and children constitute a disproportionate number of these casualties. In the first six months of 2016, nearly one in three casualties was a child.

Civilian casualties also include attacks on aid and development workers.  Both international and national staff have been victims of attack, kidnap, violence or have been caught in cross-fire. In 2013 Afghanistan was named as the most dangerous place to work for aid workers and local government officials. During 2015, 255 incidents against aid and government workers were recorded by the UN, including attacks against personnel, assets and facilities and the violation of health facilities. 152 aid workers were abducted that year, and 66 personnel were killed.

Conflict displacement

Conflict, or the threat of it, causes many Afghans to flee their homes and communities – often temporarily but sometimes for months, if not years.  In 2016, nearly 600,000 people had been displaced by conflict, contributing to a total IDP (internally displaced persons) population now exceeding 1.2 million. With an average of over 1,000 being forced to flee their homes every day, 56% of these are under 18 - losing important family and community support mechanisms as they seek safety elsewhere in Afghanistan.

In addition, many IDPs (internally displaced persons) lose their income and livelihoods, their land and other critical assets.  Whilst some IDPs are able to integrate into a new community, many have no choice but to join sprawling camps in cities, living in desperate conditions particularly during the harsh Afghan winters.  The 2011/12 winter was especially cold and more than 100 people, mainly children, died from the cold or illness in the camps.  In these situations, women, girls, the elderly and handicapped people are particularly vulnerable.

In addition to those who have been internally displaced, 2015 and 2016 have seen unprecedented numbers of Afghans leaving the country as refugees. However this is by no means a new phenomenon: Afghanistan ranked as the top source country of refugees for 30 years until 2014, when it was replaced by Syria. According to the UNHCR, the Afghan refugee population currently stands at approximately 2.7 million. Whilst many of these were new refugees, this figure includes people who fled the country during the Taliban regime and Soviet occupation. Despite having lived as refugees in neighbouring countries for decades, some Afghans are still unable to fully access local health, education, livelihood and judicial systems. 

Increasingly, many of these refugees are returning to an Afghanistan suffering ongoing conflict and humanitarian crises. From mid-2016, a sudden spike in Afghan returnees from Pakistan, Iran and Europe has put immense pressure on the government and aid community’s already strained resources – at one point, over 7,400 refugees per day were recorded crossing the borders from Pakistan.    

Although most are registered as voluntary, the majority of these returns are the direct consequence of regional political developments. Following the heinous December 2014 attack on a public army school in Peshawar, the Pakistani government included the full repatriation of Afghan refugees as part of its new anti-terrorism action plan.

Challenges & progress

Responding to humanitarian crises is often problematic.  But various factors make Afghanistan a particularly difficult context for national and international responses.  The security situation often prevents assistance reaching affected communities, as does the difficult terrain and lack of quality roads.  The lack of any recent census and the nomadic and migratory lifestyles of some groups make needs assessments more difficult.   Compounding all this, the Afghan government at central, provincial and local levels is often unable to respond – lacking the funds, experience, coordination and communication mechanisms needed for an effective and efficient response.

Despite this, when a double landslide hit villages in the Argo district of Badakhshan in April 2014, burying hundreds of people and destroying or severely damaging hundreds of homes, international relief agencies were encouraged by the level of local response.  Whilst coordination was at times badly managed, the distribution of essential shelter and food items was rapid and sufficient.  But as continued heavy rains across the north of Afghanistan brought widespread flooding, it was clear that government capacity required significant support from the international community. 

What BAAG is doing

BAAG works with its members and with other humanitarian professionals to highlight the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.   We organise debate and discussion on the subject, looking at challenges such as funding mechanisms, the humanitarian-development continuum, and the roles of other groups (such as the private sector, religious groups and communities) in providing response and building resilience.  We bring together our members and Afghan civil society to directly influence the humanitarian policy and decision makers in governments and international organisations such as the UN.

What our Members are doing

A number of our members, including Afghanaid, Islamic Relief, Concern and IRC, provide direct humanitarian support when crises occur in Afghanistan.  They often work through local partners, which helps ensure that responses are culturally and contextually acceptable, and that they are delivered quickly and effectively.  Critically, these and other members also support resilience and disaster reduction programmes to reduce the impact of future crises. See our Views and Voices and News sections for features written by or about our member’s humanitarian activities.  

BAAG’s recommendations to the UK and international community:

  1. Donors should respond adequately to the large scale of humanitarian need in Afghanistan, fully funding the UN appeal and providing additional direct support to aid agencies.
  2. In line with Good Humanitarian Donorship principles, all donors should systematically promote resilience to recurrent natural disaster by providing support to Afghan institutions, NGOs and local communities for disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness livelihood support and social protection.  
  3. To address chronic humanitarian need and protracted displacement, donors and aid actors should coordinate to ensure that humanitarian and development funding and programming are connected and complementary. Effectively pursuing post-2015 development goals, including livelihood creation and education, is needed to tackle the underlying causes of humanitarian crises and build resilience. 
  4. The needs of vulnerable groups - particularly women, children, internally displaced people and refugee returnees - should be prioritised. Donors should provide financial and technical assistance for the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees and the National IDP Policy.
  5. Donors should support, and aid agencies provide, programming that is context sensitive. Aid actors should work impartially with all members of the community. Donors should incorporate flexibility in management of funds and explore remote management possibilities

During the reporting week [12 October 2016], an average of 7,400 Afghan returnees have been crossing the border into Afghanistan on a daily basis - Unicef situation report

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